Creston Valley Thunder Cats earned two wins in three games last week to maintain a share of the overall lead in the KIJHL standings.
Revenge was sweet at home on Thursday when the Thunder Cats knocked Kimberley Dynamiters out of a tie for first stop with a convincing 6-2 win. Creston then went on the road, eking out a 7-6 win in Spokane after blowing a 5-1 second period lead, then dropping a 5-2 decision in Grand Forks against the Border Bruins.
Not surprisingly, coach Jeff Dubois was most pleased with his team’s effort against the Dynamiters.
“We played a pretty complete 60-minute game against a tough opponent,” he said on Monday. “We had worked through a lot of video and gave the guys a game plan we felt would lead to some more offensive opportunities. The guys did a great job of executing on that and they were rewarded with lots of chances and loose pucks around Kimberley’s net.”
Scoring the game’s first three goals was enough to establish a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Julien Benner (Aiden Wong and Sebastien Kilcommons) scored the only goal of the opening frame. Ronnie Wilkie (Liam Plunkett and Grant Iles) and Benner (Kilcommons and Thomas Cankovic), with his second, scored in period two before Franco Colapaolo put the Dynamiters on the scoreboard.
Benner’s hat-trick marker (Wong and Lien Miller-Jeannotte) restored the Thunder Cats three-goal lead in the third period, then Plunkett (Cankovic and McConnell Kimmett) made it 5-1. James Rota scored on the power play for Kimberley before Jonathan Lee (Kilcommons and Kimmett) finished the scoring.
“Julian Benner was full value for his hat trick, and his success came from using his size and speed to roll through opponents and get to the net,” Dubois said. “We feel like he’s really starting to tap in to his full skill set.”
Brock Lefebvre stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced to backstop Creston to the win.
Dubois was less enthusiastic about Friday night’s performance in Spokane.
“We were lucky the game wasn’t more than 60 minutes long. We felt a little too comfortable when we were up 5-1 and paid the price for that by having to hang on late in a close game.”
Benner continued with his hot hand, scoring twice (Cankovic and Wong, Wong and Liam Rycroft) to open the scoring and Kilcommons (Mitchell Wolfe and Luke Kalneuik) put the Cats up by three after 20 minutes of play.
After Carter Jones put the Braves, who sit last in the Neil Murdoch Division, on the board, Miller-Jeannotte (Justen James and Bryce Sturm) and Plunkett (Tyler Severson and Wolfe) gave Creston a 4-goal cushion after two periods.
Spokane didn’t roll over and play dead, though. Two power play goals, by Trail Thompson and Andrew Clark, and a pair of even strength markers by Thompson and Paxton Malone pulled the Braves even with 6:26 left in regulation time.
Severson (Iles and Plunkett) scored a power play goal 50 seconds later, then Jonathan Lee (Benner and Wolfe) notched what turned out to be the game winner with 3:29 remaining. A hat-trick goal by Thompson in the final minute proved to be too little, too late for the never-say-die Braves.
Patrick Osterman was in goal for the Braves first five goals, but starter Lefebvre entered the game with 6:25 left to help seal the win. He gave up one goal on three shots.
With Jake Livingstone called up to play for Merritt in the BCHL, credited strong play by Wolfe in his place.
“He had three assists and was impressive all night with his skating and puck movement,” Dubois said. Not much else impressed the coach. “We went back to picking and choosing our spots in terms of where we work hard and focus on the game. It’s a bad habit we’ve gotten ourselves into a few times and it needs to stop.”
Saturday’s match with the Grand Forks Border Bruins, proved Dubois’s point.